27 October 2010

Macaron Fail

For the past couple of months, I have been a bad MacTweet-er.  I have missed not one but two challenges in a row - not because I've wanted to, but because hubby and I have been busy putting in some new flooring and putting a fresh coat of paint on a few rooms.  The downstairs portion of our house is looking pretty great now, and Molly and Riley are quickly learning they can't quite corner as fast on wood floors as they can on carpet (I'm pretty sure we're going to have to heavily pad the landing on the stairs when we finish them next).  Anyway, I'm back now, and am ready to get back to making macs!

...problem is, the Macaron gods seem to be a bit peeved with me.  Yep, that's right.... macaron FAIL!  Consider it Karma.

This month's MacTweets challenge was to create Pinkarons for Pinktober, in honour of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  This cause is important to me not only as a woman, but as a woman who has seen friends and loved ones touched by this tragic disease.  The importance of self-exams and mammograms cannot be stressed enough, as early detection is currently our best defense.

So I decided to make Pink Ginger Macarons by adding a bit of ginger syrup to the macaron batter, and then made a chocolate ganache loaded up with the a sassy kick of ginger.  Even though I'm not much of a drinker, when a friend recently told me about an incredible ginger cognac liqueur, I knew I needed to get a bottle for my baking.  Either sipped at the end of a meal, or stirred into a bowl of melted dark chocolate, it is absolutely intoxicating, though it seemed to lose a bit of its pungency in the ganache.  That was quickly and easily rectified by grating a knob of fresh ginger over the bowl and incorporating all the spicy fresh ginger juice and pulp.  In no time, we had a killer filling for our lovely pink macs.  Unfortunately, "lovely" isn't quite what I ended up with this time.

After the success I had last time I made macarons, I knew I had to stick to using the Pierre Herme Italian meringue method.  I'm quite sure they would have turned out just fine if I had been focused on my macarons and nothing else, but as you can probably guess, such was not the case.  No, I was simultaneously working on dinner for hubby and a friend while trying to make finicky french cookies (seemed like a good idea at the time).  As time for the macaron process ran out, I had no choice but to put the batter into a piping bag, seal it up and set it into the fridge until the following day.  I figured this wouldn't be a problem, as Ken at HungryRabbitNYC had used a refrigerated batter for a previous month's challenge with spectaular results... what could possibly go wrong?  Well, for starters, his macs weren't made with the already thick Italian meringue.  When day two arrived and I finally had the time to devote to piping, drying and baking mon petit macarons, I was getting hand cramps just trying to pipe the batter onto the cookie sheets.  I walked away several times, partly out of frustration, but mostly to let the batter warm up a bit and make for easier piping.  An hour and an half later, I had three sheets filled with bright pink dots.  Only the dots were bumpy.  They were lumpy.  They were ugly.  I gave the ol' "rap the cookie sheets on the table sharply a couple of times" trick a go, but there was no improvement.  Finally, after waiting and speculating different fixes,  I grabbed a small spoon and a bowl of water and attempted to "smooth" the tops down a bit - they needed to at least *look* like macs, instead of pimply pink Hershey's Kisses.  I let them dry for a full 45 minutes before I baked them, but the fact of the matter is they were simply destined to be ugly macs.  When they finally came out of the oven, any happiness I felt over the success of having feet, was quickly over shadowed by the fact that my bright pink macs were now unmistakably flesh-coloured.  Pink Ginger macs had become Soylent macs in a matter of minutes.... not at *all* what I was going for. 

And, in case you were wondering...yes, they were also still bumpy and disfigured; thanks to the wet spoon trick, any water that hadn't completely dried before they went into the oven became a volcano-like vent for the hot batter to bubble up through and collect, giving a glimpse into what macarons may look like if they're not allowed to dry before baking.  Disappointed and defeated, I set the lumpy bumpy shells aside to be filled later.

But later never really came, at least not for these shells.  They were so unappetizing that I didn't even want to serve them to anyone.  So, into the food processor they went, to ground up and be mixed into meringue another day, hopefully reincarnated as the beautiful macarons they were meant to be.

As for the ginger ganache... warmed up and spooned over a bowl of ice cream, it is simply divine - and an excellent way to soothe your bruised baker's ego.

Happy Bakings All - I wish you better results than I had this month!

25 October 2010

In the words of Homer Simpson...


Homemade Vanilla Bean Glazed Doughnuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.  Thankfully, I no longer have a fear of frying, so I was pretty excited about this challenge!

Now, here in Canada, doughnuts are pretty popular, though I didn't realize just how popular - apparently Canucks consume more doughnuts per capita than anyone else.  Maybe these stats include those incredibly addictive mini-doughnuts that you get at every summer carnival, festival and fair - hot and freshly sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, they are wickedly good.  I can guarantee you that included in their count is the Canadian institution that is Tim Hortons.  Tim Horton was a hockey player (which automatically makes him a Canadian hero), who opened up a doughnut shop in 1964 with a business partner.  Today, there are over 2700 Tim Hortons locations across Canada (don't ask me why they dropped the apostrophe "s"), almost 600 in the US, and because "Tim's" is such a Canadian staple, there is even a location at the Kandahar Military Base in Afghanistan, simply to keep our troops well supplied with doughnuts and coffee.  Ironically, they're known more for their coffee than anything else these days, and if you don't believe me, next time you run into a Canadian, just ask them what a "Double Double" is, and they'll be able to tell you.  It's pretty well known that if you can get your hands on a Tim Hortons franchise, you basically have a license to print money.  Heck, at the location a block away from my work, the drive through lineup is never less a dozen cars.  While I won't go out of my way for some Tim's, I've definitely eaten there.

Mmmmmm... Doughnuts.  Chocolate, glazed or rolled in sugar!

Lori's challenge gave us the freedom to make whatever kind of doughnuts we wanted, but she provided some recipes for both cake and yeast doughnuts.  I decided to go with the more traditional yeast doughnut recipe by Alton Brown.  Party because I prefer them over cake doughnuts, and partly out of loyalty to Mr. Brown - without him, I would probably still be doing heat-'n-eat food for dinner every night.  His "Good Eats" show was a favourite of mine when hubby and I first moved in together and my cooking skills were basic at best.  His entertaining food science approach was very inspiring, and I would head into the kitchen with a "Hey, I can make that!" attitude after every episode.  It wasn't long before my cooking repertoir expanded considerably.  So, on behalf on myself and my hubby - Thanks Alton!  Now, where was I...? Oh yeah - yeast doughnuts.  Anyway, I was pondering the possibilities of all things doughnut and started thinking about French Crullers, my personal favourite in the doughnut category.  But they're completely different from all other doughnuts... they're not yeast, and they're certainly not cake - they are incredibly light and have an airy, yet moist, custard-y interior.  Well I was able to find out (thanks Google!) that crullers are actually made from pâte à choux dough - which is awesome, because I totally know how to make that! It also explains why they're my fav... pâte à choux dough is the wonderous stuff that éclairs, chouquettes and profiteroles are made from.  It's like wonder dough!
Frying up some French Crullers
Fresh French Crullers... ready to be glazed

The yeast doughnuts do take longer to make, simply because yeast doughs need time to rise and rest and rise again, but you can still have fresh, homemade doughnuts in a little under 3 hours. Conveniently though, there is just enough time while the yeast dough rises to make the crullers.  French Crullers are pretty straightforward: make the choux dough, pipe it into a swirly dough shape using a star tip and a piping bag, and fry.  When they come out of the hot oil you can glaze them or roll them in sugar, plain or seasoned with a spice of your choice, such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg... pretty much anything you like!  As for the yeast doughnuts, you can really go crazy with toppings, glazes and even fillings - just remember to omit cutting a hole in the doughnut if you're going to fill them.  I opted to make a vanilla glaze using confectioners sugar, vanilla and cream - and it paired perfectly with the crispy dough.  I also made a ganache to use a rish chocolate glaze for some of them.  Finally, I pureed some strawberry preserves and piped them into the few hole-less doughnuts I cooked up, and used the vanilla glaze on them as well.  A word of advice if you're going to make filled doughnuts: be careful not to overstuff them with your filling.  I sent the filled ones off to work with hubby with the warning that folks should watch out for the exploding doughnut.  I'm pretty sure one of his coworkers started their day off with a strawberry stain down the front of their shirt... oops!

Homemade Jelly Doughnuts - what could be better?

So, having made my own doughnuts from scratch, crullers are still my favourite, though the other ones are way better than store bought.  I can also say that I will certianly be making these again - to fill a request from my nephew in California.  He spent many mornings going for "doughjeez" with his grandpa when he lived in Canada, and he is bona-fide doughnut lover.  Unfortunately, we recently discovered he has a severe allergy to soy, and Sis has yet to find a doughnut they can buy down there that is soy-free.  So I'll happily cook up a fresh batch for him at Christmas.  After all, one of my favourite things about cooking and baking is making someone's day by making their favouite treat - especially if they are otherwise deprived of it.

Sweet, warm & waiting to be devoured....
Happy doughnut making!

Yeast Doughnuts
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Makes 20 to 25 doughnuts

360 1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
2 packages instant yeast
1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
Vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

Pâte à Choux
makes approximately 12 French Crullers

125 ml milk
125 ml water
125g unsalted butter
4g salt
140g all-purpose flour
4 large eggs (at room temperature)

Place the milk, water and butter into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Once the butter has completely melted, add in the flour and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the dough is well mixed and resembles the texture of wet sand.
Place the dough into the bowl of a food processor (or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment). Turn the food processor on to cool the mixture for a couple of minutes. With the processor running, add the eggs, one at a time, through the feed tube. Scrape down the bowl if necessary, and continue to process until the dough becomes thick and glossy.
Scrape the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.  Gently pipe large circles of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper sprinkled generously with flour.
Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365˚F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 2 or 3 at a time.  Cook for about 1 minute per side.  Remove from oil and place onto a cooling rack.  Allow them to cool slightly before dipping in glaze or dipping in sugar.

The incredible exploding doughnut

Vanilla Bean Glaze
60ml (1/4 Cup) heavy cream
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (or you can substitute with vanilla extract)
205g (1 1/2 Cups) confectioner's sugar

In a medium bowl, combine the cream and vanilla.  Gently whisk in one third of the confectioners sugar until well blended.  Gradually blend in the rest of the confectioners sugar, 1/3 at a time, whisking until smooth.

Dip the warm doughnuts into the glaze, and coat completely.  Lift the doughnut out of the glaze by threading a skewer, dowell or the handle of a wooden spoon through the hole of the doughnut.  Suspend the doughnuts over the bowl for a couple of minutes to allow the excess glaze to drip off.  Transfer the glazed doughnuts to a plate, platter or tray.  Serve immediately.

Give 'em a dip in some Vanilla Bean Glaze

Almost ready to eat.....!

11 October 2010

Happy Turkey Day! (in Canada at least)

Fall is very officially here, no question about it.  We didn't get the nice, long Indian Summer I was hoping for... not quite, anyway.  Yes, we're back to warm, sunny days, but it took less than a week for all the leaves to turn colour and drop this year.  Who can blame them?  Summer ended very abruptly this year - sunny and 28C one day, cold, drizzly and 13C the next... and then it stayed that was for over a week.  I had plans for driving down to the river valley to take some photos of my city when it is at its absolute prettiest, but I hardly had time before all the trees went from a riot of illuminated golds, vibrant oranges and fiery reds to a forest of barren branches.  And pictures of naked brown treetops doesn't extactly have the same appeal. {sigh} Oh well, at least it's warm again.

And withn fall, comes Thanksgiving - a full five weeks earlier than it comes for our neighbours to the south, though I honestly have no idea why.  It's fine with me, because we get to enjoy our traditional turkey with all the trimmings and still have enough time before Christmas to actually crave it again. We'll be heading over to dinner at my parent's house on Sunday for Round 1, then over to the in-laws' on holiday Monday for Round 2.  It's been a long time since we hosted and I prepared the whole feat myself, though I have very distinct memories of our first Thanksgiving after hubby and I moved in together....the turkey was so beautiful we took pictures of it, and my then-vegetarian sister-in-law totally fell off the meat wagon and feasted on potatoes and stuffing covered in the killer gravy that gorgeous bird produced.  Nowadays, we go elsewhere for our turkey fix and I bring the pies... natch!

One thing that's a must is Pumpkin Pie, just like my dear Grandma used to make.  Mostly because it's tradition and for some people, it's just not Thanksgiving without it... I mean, it's okay, but in all honesty, one piece a year does me just fine.  It brings back fond memories of Thanksgivings past, celebrated around the big table at Grandma & Grandpa's, everyone making sure they saved room for dessert (a LOT of room too, because for whatever reason, my Grandma could only ever cut a pie into 5 wedges - unless you were full and only wanted "a sliver"... then she might cut it into sixths).  Served with a nice big dollop of freshly-whipped cream, it was the perfect finish to an incredible feast, before, stuffed like the fair bird ourselves, we all moaned & waddled our way through the kitchen to help clean up.

But for the last 18 years that I've been making the dessert this time of year, I also make Pecan Pie, because hubby doesn't like Pumpkin Pie, and because it is my absolute favourite.  I would probably eat Pecan Pie all year round, but the flavours and richness really are best in the cooler months.  A nice flaky crust, filled with sticky, chewy, syrupy good-ness, holding all those toasty pecans together, and topped with whipped cream.  It's heaven on a fork as far as I am concerned.  But don't try to give me any of that Maple or Chocolate Pecan Pie... no sir!  I'm a purist when it comes to Pecan Pie.  Besides, chocolate can have the spolight any day of the year.  Today is the Pecan's day to shine.

Now for the dilemma - how many of each pie do I make, and in what form?  One really nice thing about Pecan Pie is that the filling (it's not exactly a custard, though it does contain eggs - it's more of a syrup tart with nuts) is firm enough that you can serve it in just about any shape you want.  I've made the traditional round pie, to be cut into several wedges (hear that, Grandma?  I said "several" wedges!), an elegant rectanular tart, and even individual tarts, which is revealed to much "ooohhhh-ing" and "aaahhhh-ing", at the same time, eliminating the need for all that cutting and serving.  Yes, it's more labour intensive to make the tarts, especially when you only have 4 tart molds the right size, but you can actually prepare and blind bake the tart shells ahead of time and then it's not much work to fill them and do the final bake on the day they're to be served.  Of course, you can also just go buy more tart molds and save a bunch of time that way too (that's the route I'm going...)

Some words of advice for these recipes; Now is not the time to try and cut any caloric corners.  Margarine is *not* an option (nor should it ever be in my opinion), the pecans should be fresh (stale nuts go rancid and bitter), as should the eggs.  For the pumpkin, though I have yet to try it (but I want to) I would imagine that real pumpkin, roasted in your own oven, would be the best. That said, I do cheat and buy canned pumpkin.  If you want to go ahead and cheat like I do, then just be sure to buy just straight "canned pumpkin" and not pumpkin pie filling.  What's the difference?  The difference is that one contains nothing but pumpkin and the other also contains spices and seasonings, and I like to decide how much of which spices go into my pie, thank you very much.

Speaking of spices, I definitely recommend that your spices be as fresh as possible - even though spices are sold in bottles big enough to last until the next millennia, it actually shouldn't.  Do yourself a favour - toss them out and buy some fresh ones.  Also be sure to buy individual spices instead of that bottle of "pumpkin pie spice".  I also am a big fan of buying whole nutmeg and grating it fresh, just when you need it.... the smell s pure heaven to me, and it tastes so much better than any jarred stuff you can find.  For my Pumpkin Pie, I also opt for minced candied ginger over ground ginger.  It gives a little more personality to the pies, and the candied aspect of it pairs perfectly with dessert, without being overwhelmingly spicey.  Of course,  if you like a bit more kick, give fresh grated ginger a try.

Oh, and another thing (though as a reader of this blog, you should already know this): the cream should be REAL whipped cream - not from a can, and just so you know, anything called whipped "topping" that you can buy in a tub in the freezer section is NOT whipped cream, it's an "edible oil product".  HUH??  What kind of oil?!?  Corn oil? Sperm Whale oil?? Motor oil??? {*shudder*}.... and don't even ask me how they can make 'edible oil' into something fat free...

Ok - back to the pies:
For the pastry, I stick with the Pâte Brisée (or flaky pie pastry) that I always use, and posted a while back - occassionally, when baking an apple or pumpkin pie, I might get a little crazy and add a small amount of cinnamon to the flour, just to compliment the spiced fillings, but the choice is yours.  Also, because these are open pies (sans top crust), filled with very 'wet' fillings, I blind bake the pastry before filling, ensuring a nice crisp crust.  As I said, you can do this the morning of, or you can make the pie shell a few days ahead and store them in an airtight container until you're ready to fill them with.....

Pecan Pie
makes one 9-inch pie, but this recipe is easily doubled
226g  (2 Cups) Pecan halves
90g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
264 ml  (3/4 Cup) light corn syrup
3 large eggs, at room temperature
200g (1 Cup) brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
15 ml (1 Tbsp) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F and place rack in centre of the oven. 
Scatter pecans on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven for about 8-12 minutes to toast them, stirrung and mixing them every couple of minutes, and keeping a watchful eye that they don't burn.  A good rule of thumb when toasting nuts - as soon as you can smell them, they're done.  Immediately turn them out onto a wooden cutting board or kitchen towel, so they don't stay on the hot cookie sheet where they will continue to cook and potentially scorch.  Using a very sharp knife, roughly chop the pecans until the pieces and set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 250F
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients, until well combined. 
Add the chopped pecans and stir until the nuts are well incorporated.
Pout the mixture into your pie shell and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is puffy, and the centre just barely jiggles when the pie gently shaken.
Remove from oven and allow to cool fully before serving.
Best served at room temperature with as much whipped cream as you like!
** NOTE: If baking individual tarts, be sure that the pecans get evenly distributed amongst all the pie shells, and bake for 20-25 minutes

Pumpkin Pie
makes one 9-inch pie, but again, this recipe is easily doubled

180ml (3/4 Cup) heavy cream
120ml (1/2 Cup) milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
908g (2 Cups) canned pumpkin puree (unseasoned)
200g (1 cup) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 tbsp (15g) candied ginger, finely minced
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 375˚F, and place a rack in the centre of the oven.
In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk, cream & vanilla, but do not allow it to boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar and spices, until well blended.
While continuously whisking, slowly pour the heated cream mixture into the pumpkin mixture, until it is fully incorporated.
Pour the pumpkin filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the center of the pie wiggles slightly when the pie is gently shaken.
Allow to cool fully, 1-2 hours.  Serve at room temperature with as much whipped cream as you like!